Educational challenges faced in the Dominican Republic

(Map courtesy Wikipedia)

(Map courtesy Wikipedia)

Dominican Republic (MNN) — The World Bank board of executive directors last week approved a new project for the Dominican Republic worth US$75 million.

It’s supposed to usher in a new social/poverty reduction program that will benefit up to 1.3 million people. The idea is that the package will not only increase access to the national health insurance and education to the most vulnerable, but it will also improve vocational skills and provide basic improvements to housing.

Although the Dominican Republic is one of the best economically performing countries in the Latin America and the Caribbean region, around 46% of all rural Dominicans live in poverty. Jeff Vandermolen with Kids Alive International says, “One of the best ways to break the cycle of poverty in a family is through education. We want to focus on Christian education because we know that just knowledge is not enough–an educational level, but a connection and a relationship with Christ are so important.”

(Photo courtesy Kids Alive International)

(Photo courtesy Kids Alive International)

Following that line of thinking, the Dominican government also recently launched a program that brings in more schools. “There are hundreds of schools that are under construction right now across the country. The Dominican government is dedicating a greater portion of their budget–about 4%–towards education.” But will it work?

Vandermolen says, “It’s much more than classrooms. What the government needs to invest in are the teachers. My fear is that they see more classrooms as a solution, but not spending enough to really prepare the next generation of teachers.”

Public education in the Dominican Republic is available and required. However, among the adult population of the country, the actual education level of adults is less than five years. In fact, the country ranks as one of the lowest in the world in world studies of education levels and quality of education. Vandermolen says many teachers are teaching multiple grade levels per day out of a single classroom. What it means, he explains, is that the system is overtaxed. “What they’re realizing is that four hours of education per day, per student, really, by under-prepared teachers, is just not going to create the results that they want. So, there’s a very strong effort right now to try to create more schools.”

(Photo courtesy Kids Alive International)

(Photo courtesy Kids Alive International)

How is Kids Alive International helping? For one thing, they’re in the process of converting some of their after-school programs into full-fledged, certified schools. These compliment the four Christian private schools they’re already running in the Dominican Republic.

But the key, says Vandermolen, isn’t more schools. It’s the teachers. “We realize that the quality of our education is very tied to the quality of our teachers. So, we invest heavily in our teachers and our teacher training program. We have a three-year training program. We want to give them the resources to best meet the needs of the kids within their classroom.”

Here’s where the poverty cycle shatters. Because Kids Alive invests in teachers, the teachers, in turn, invest in their students. Not only do the kids come out prepared for adulthood, they come back to invest in others the same the way in which they were invested. “One of the things that’s been really exciting for us is that we’ve seen many of our kids who have grown up in our program–who we’ve been able to stick alongside of–through their high school and through their university education. The exciting thing is that we’re now seeing these kids coming back to our programs as leaders and teachers.”

Because Kids Alive International addresses the root causes of spiritual and physical poverty, it paints a target on their staff. Vandermolen says they don’t take that lightly. Pray “for protection from spiritual attacks, from discouragement, and I think also…for the continuing education for our teachers, the investment that we’re making into them as a ministry.”

Together, we can make a difference, one kid at a time. Want to help? Click here to see what else Kids Alive does in the Dominican Republic.